The End of the Whole Mess
by Stephen King

The End of the Whole Mess by Stephen King — Read by Matthew Broderick

        I want to tell you about the end of war, the degeneration of mankind, and the death of the Messiah - an epic story, deserving thousands of pages and a whole shelf of volumes, but you (if there are any 'you' later on to read this) will have to settle for the freeze-dried version. The direct injection works very fast. I figure I've got somewhere between forty-five minutes and two hours, depending on my blood-type. I think it's A, which should give me a little more time, but I'll be goddamned if I can remember for sure. If it turns out to be 0, you could be in for a lot of blank pages, my hypothetical friend.

In any event, I think maybe I'd better assume the worst and go as fast as I can.

I'm using the electric typewriter - Bobby's word-processor is faster, but the genny's cycle is too irregular to be trusted, even with the line suppressor. I've only got one shot at this; I can't risk getting most of the way home and then seeing the whole thing go to data heaven because of an oHm drop, or a surge too great for the suppressor to cope with.

My name is Howard Fornoy. I was a freelance writer. My brother, Robert Fornoy, was the Messiah. I killed him by shooting him up with his own discovery four hours ago. He called it The Calmative. A Very Serious Mistake might have been a better name, but what's done is done and can't be undone, as the Irish have been saying for centuries ... which proves what assholes they are.

Shit, I can't afford these digressions.

After Bobby died I covered him with a quilt and sat at the cabin's single living-room. window for some three hours, looking out at the woods. Used to be you could see the orange glow of the hi-intensity arc-sodiums from North Conway, but no more. Now there's just the White Mountains, looking like dark triangles of crepe paper cut out by a child, and the pointless stars*

I turned on the radio, dialed through four bands, found one crazy guy, and shut it off. I sat there thinking of ways to tell this story - My mind kept sliding away toward all those miles of dark pinewoods, all that nothing Finally I realized I needed to get myself off the dime and shoot myself up: Shit. I never could work without a deadline.

And I've sure-to-God got one now.

Our parents had no reason to expect anything other than what they got: bright children. Dad was a history major who had become a fun professor at Hofstra when he was thirty. Ten years later he was one of six viceadministrators of the National Archives in Washington, DC, and in line for the top spot. He was a helluva good guy, too - had every record Chuck Berry ever cut and played a pretty mean blues guitar himself My dad filed by day and rocked by night.

Mom graduated magna cum laude from Drew. Got a Phi Beta Kappa key she sometimes wore on this funky fedora she had. She became a successful CPA in DC, met my dad, married him, and took in her shingle when she became pregnant with yours truly. I came along in 1980. By '84 she was doing taxes for some of my dad's associates - she called this her 'little hobby.' By the time Bobby was born in 1987, she was handling taxes, investment portfolios, and estate-planning for a dozen powerful men. I could name them, but who gives a wad? They're either dead or driveling idiots by now.

I think she probably made more out of 'her little hobby' each year than my dad made at his job, but that never mattered - they were happy with what they were to themselves and to each other. I saw them squabble lots of times, but I never saw them fight. When I was growing up, the only difference I saw between my mom and my playmates' moms was that their moms used to read or iron or sew or talk on the phone while the soaps played on the tube, and my mom used to run a pocket calculator and write down numbers on big green sheets of paper while the soaps played on the tube.

I was no disappointment to a couple of people with Mensa Gold Cards in their wallets. I maintained A's and B's through my school career (the idea that either I or my brother might go to a private school was never even discussed so far as I know). I also wrote well early, with no effort at all. I sold my first magazine piece when I was twenty - it was on how the Continental Army wintered at Valley Forge. I sold it to an airline magazine for four hundred fifty dollars. My dad, whom I loved deeply, asked me if he could buy that check from me. He gave me his own personal check and had the check from the airline magazine framed and hung it over his desk. A romantic genius, if you will. A romantic blues-playing genius, if you will. Take it from me, a kid could do a lot worse. Of course he and my mother both died raving and pissing in their pants late last year, like almost everyone else on this big round world of ours, but I never stopped loving either of them.

I was the sort of child they had every reason to expect - a good boy with a bright mind, a talented boy whose talent grew to early maturity in an atmosphere of love and confidence, a faithful boy who loved and respected his mom and dad.

Bobby was different. Nobody, not even Mensa types like our folks, ever expects a kid like Bobby. Not ever.

I potty-trained two full years earlier than Bob, and that was the only thing in which I ever beat him. But I never felt jealous of him; that would have been like a fairly good American Legion League pitcher feeling jealous of Nolan Ryan or Roger Clemens. After a certain point the comparisons that cause feelings of jealousy simply cease to exist. I've been there, and I can tell you: after a certain point you just stand back and shield your eyes from the flashburns.

Bobby read at two and began writing short essays ('Our Dog', 'A Trip to Boston with Mother') at three. His printing was the straggling, struggling galvanic constructions of a six-year-old, and that was startling enough in itself, but there was more: if transcribed so that his still-developing motor control no longer became an evaluative factor, you would have thought you were reading the work of a bright, if extremely naive, fifth-grader, He progressed from simple sentences to compound sentences to complex ones with dizzying rapidity, grasping clauses, sub-clauses, and modifying clauses with an intuitiveness that was eerie. Sometimes his syntax was garbled and his modifiers misplaced, but he had such flaws - which plague most writers all their lives - pretty well under control by the age of five.

He developed headaches. My parents were afraid he had some sort of physical problem - a brain-tumor, perhaps - and took him to a doctor who examined him carefully, listened to him even more carefully, and then told my parents there was nothing wrong with Bobby except stress: he was in a state of extreme frustration because his writing-hand would not work as wen as his brain.

'You got a kid trying to pass a mental kidney stone,' the doctor said. 'I could prescribe something for his headaches, but I think the drug he really needs is a typewriter.' So Mom and Dad gave Bobby an IBM. A year later they gave him a Commodore 64 with WordStar for Christmas and Bobby's headaches stopped. Before going on to other matters, I only want to add that he believed for the next three years or so that it was Santa Claus who had left that word-cruncher under our tree. Now that I think of it, that was another place where I beat Bobby: I Santa-trained earlier, too.

There's so much I could tell you about those early days, and I suppose I'll have to tell you a little, but I'll have to go fast and make it brief. The deadline. Ah, the deadline. I once read a very funny piece called 'The Essential Gone with the Wind' that went something like this:

"A war?" laughed Scarlett. "Oh, fiddle-de-dee!"

Boom! Ashley went to war! Atlanta burned! Rhett walked in and then walked out!

"'Fiddle-de-dee," said Scarlett through her tears, "I will think about it tomorrow, for tomorrow is another day."

I laughed heartily over that when I read it; now that I'm faced with doing something similar, it doesn't seem quite so funny. But here goes:

'A child with an IQ immeasurable by any existing test?' smiled India Fornoy

to her devoted husband, Richard. 'Fiddle-de-dee! We'll provide an atmosphere where his intellect - not to mention that of his not-exactly-stupid older brother -can grow. And we'll raise them as the normal all-American boys they by gosh are!' Boom! The Fornoy boys grew up! Howard went to the University of Virginia, graduated

cum laude, and settled down to a freelance writing career! Made a comfortable living! Stepped out with a lot of women and went to bed with quite a few of them! Managed to avoid social diseases both sexual and pharmacological! Bought a Mitsubishi stereo system! Wrote home at least once a week! Published two novels that did pretty well! 'Fiddle-de-dee,' said Howard, 'this is the life for me!' And so it was, at least until the day Bobby showed up unexpectedly (in the best mad-scientist tradition) with his two glass boxes, a bees' nest in one and a wasps' nest in the other, Bobby wearing a Mumford Phys Ed tee-shirt inside-out, on the verge of destroying human intellect and just as happy as a clam at high tide.

Guys like my brother Bobby come along only once every two or three generations, I think - guys like Leonardo da Vinci, Newton, Einstein, maybe Edison. They all seem to have one thing in common: they are like huge compasses which swing aimlessly for a long time, searching for some true north and then homing on it with fearful force. Before that happens such guys are apt to get up to some weird shit, and Bobby was no exception.

When he was eight and I was fifteen, he came to me and said he had invented an airplane. By then I knew Bobby too well to just say 'Bullshit' and kick him out of my room. I went out to the garage where there was this weird plywood contraption sitting on his American Flyer red wagon. It looked a little like a fighter plane, but the wings were raked forward instead of back. He had mounted the saddle from his rocking horse on the middle of it with bolts. There was a lever on the side. There was no motor. He said it was a glider. He wanted me to push him down Carrigan's Hill, which was the steepest grade in DC's Grant Park - there was a cement path down the middle of it for old folks. That, Bobby said, would be his runway.

'Bobby,' I said, 'you got this puppy's wings on backward.'

'No,' he said. 'This is the way they're supposed to be. I saw something on Wild Kingdom about hawks. They dive down on their prey and then reverse their wings coming up. They're double-jointed, see? You get better lift this way.'

'Then why isn't the Air Force building them this way?' I asked, blissfully unaware that both the American and the Russian air forces had plans for such forward-wing fighter planes on their drawing boards.

Bobby just shrugged. He didn't know and didn't care.

We went over to Carrigan's Hill and he climbed into the rocking-horse saddle and gripped the lever. 'Push me hard,' he said. His eyes were dancing with that crazed light I knew so well - Christ, his eyes used to light up that way in his cradle sometimes. But I swear to God I never would have pushed him down the cement path as hard as I did if I thought the thing would actually work.

But I didn't know, and I gave him one hell of a shove. He went freewheeling down the hill, whooping like a cowboy just off a traildrive and headed into town for a few cold beers. An old lady had to jump out of his way, and he just missed an old geezer leaning over a walker. Halfway down he pulled the handle and I watched, wide-eyed and bullshit with fear and amazement, as his splintery plywood plane separated from the wagon. At first it only hovered inches above it, and for a second it looked like it was going to settle back. Then there was a gust of wind and Bobby's plane took off like someone had it on an invisible cable. The American Flyer wagon ran off the concrete path and into some bushes. All of a sudden Bobby was ten feet in the air, then twenty, then fifty. He went gliding over Grant Park on a steepening upward plane, whooping cheerily.

I went running after him, screaming for him to come down, visions of his body tumbling off that stupid rocking-horse saddle and impaling itself on a tree, or one of the park's many statues, standing out with hideous clarity in my head. I did not just imagine my brother's funeral; I tell you I attended it.

'BOBBY!'

I shrieked. 'COME DOWN!' 'WHEEEEEEEe!'

Bobby screamed back, his voice faint but clearly ecstatic. Startled chess-players, Frisbee-throwers, book-readers, lovers, and joggers stopped whatever they were doing to watch. 'BOBBY THERE'S NO SEATBELT ON THAT FUCKING THING!'

I screamed. It was the first time I ever used that particular word, so far as I can remember. 'Iyyyy'll beeee all riyyyyht . . .' He

was screaming at the top of his lungs, but I was appalled to realize I could barely hear him. I went running down Carrigan's Hill, shrieking all the way. I don't have the slightest memory of just what I was yelling, but the next day I could not speak above a whisper. I do remember passing a young fellow in a neat three-piece suit standing by the statue of Eleanor Roosevelt at the foot of the hill. He looked at me and said conversationally, 'Tell you what, my friend, I'm having one hell of an' acid flashback.' I remember that odd misshapen shadow gliding across the green floor of the park, rising and rippling as it crossed park benches, litter baskets, and the upturned faces of the watching people. I remember chasing it. I remember how my mother's face crumpled and how she started to cry when I told her that Bobby's plane, which had no business flying in the first place, turned upside down in a sudden eddy of wind and Bobby finished his short but brilliant career splattered all over D Street.

The way things turned out, it might have been better for everyone if things had actually turned out that way, but they didn't.

Instead, Bobby banked back toward Carrigan's Hill, holding nonchalantly onto the tail of his own plane to keep from falling off the damned thing, and brought it down toward the little pond at the center of Grant Park. He went air-sliding five feet over it, then four ... and then he was skiing his sneakers along the surface of the water, sending back twin white wakes, scaring the usually complacent (and overfed) ducks up in honking indignant flurries before him, laughing his cheerful laugh. He came down on the far side, exactly between two park benches that snapped off the wings of his plane. He flew out of the saddle, thumped his head, and started to bawl.

That was life with Bobby.

Not everything was that spectacular - in fact, I don't think anything was . . . at least until The Calmative. But I told you the story because I think, this time at least, the extreme case best illustrates the norm: fife with Bobby was a constant mind-fuck. By the age of nine he was attending quantum physics and advanced algebra classes at Georgetown University. There was the day he blanked out every radio and TV on our street - and the surrounding four blocks - with his own voice; he had found an old portable TV in the attic and turned it into a wide-band radio broadcasting station. One old black-and-white Zenith, twelve feet of hi-fi flex, a coathanger mounted on the roofpeak of our house, and presto! For about two hours four blocks of Georgetown could receive only WBOB ... which happened to be my brother, reading some of my short stories, telling moron jokes, and explaining that the high sulfur content in baked beans was the reason our dad farted so much in church every Sunday morning. 'But he gets most of em off pretty quiet,' Bobby told his listening audience of roughly three thousand, 'or sometimes he holds the real bangers until it's time for the hymns.'

My dad, who was less than happy about all this, ended up paying a seventyfive-dollar FCC fine and taking it out of Bobby's allowance for the next year.

Life with Bobby, oh yeah ... and look here, I'm crying. Is it honest sentiment, I wonder, or the onset? The former, I think - Christ knows how much I loved him -but I think I better try to hurry up a little just the same.

Bobby had graduated high school, for all practical purposes, by the age of ten, but he never got a BA or BS, let alone any advanced degree. It was that big powerful compass in his head, swinging around and around, looking for some true north to point at.

He went through a physics period, and a shorter period when he was nutty for chemistry ... but in the end, Bobby was too impatient with mathematics for either of those fields to hold him. He could do it, but it - and ultimately all so-called hard science - bored him.

By the time he was fifteen, it was archaeology - he combed the White Mountain foothills around our summer place in North Conway, building a history of the Indians who had lived there from arrowheads, flints, even the charcoal patterns of long-dead campfires in the mesolithic caves in the mid-New Hampshire regions.

But that passed, too, and he began to read history and anthropology. When he was sixteen my father and my mother gave their reluctant approval when Bobby requested that he be allowed to accompany a party of New England anthropologists on an expedition to South America.

He came back five months later with the first real tan of his life; he was also an inch taller, fifteen pounds lighter, and much quieter. He was still cheerful enough, or could be, but his little-boy exuberance, sometimes infectious, sometimes wearisome, but always there, was gone. He had grown up. And for the first time I remember him talking about the news ... how bad it was, I mean. That was 2003, the year a PLO splinter group called the Sons of the Jihad (a name that always sounded to me hideously like a Catholic community service group somewhere in western Pennsylvania) set off a Squirt Bomb in London, polluting sixty per cent of it and making the rest of it extremely unhealthy for people who ever planned to have children (or to live past the age of fifty, for that matter). The year we tried to blockade the Philippines after the Cedeno administration accepted a 'small group' of Red Chinese advisors (fifteen thousand or so, according to our spy satellites), and only backed down when it became clear that (a) the Chinese weren't kidding about emptying the holes if we didn't pull back, and (b) the American people weren't all that crazy about committing mass suicide over the Philippine Islands. That was also the year some other group of crazy motherfuckers - Albanians, I think - tried to air-spray the AIDS virus over Berlin.

This sort of stuff depressed everybody, but it depressed the shit out of Bobby.

'Why are people so goddam mean?' he asked me one day. We were at the summer place in New Hampshire, it was late August, and most of our stuff was already in boxes and suitcases. The cabin had that sad, deserted look it always got just before we all went our separate ways. For me it meant back to New York, and for Bobby it meant Waco, Texas, of all places ... he had spent the summer reading sociology and geology texts - how's that for a crazy salad? - and said he wanted to run a couple of experiments down there- He said it in a casual. offhand way. but I had seen my mother looking at him with a peculiar thoughtful scrutiny in the last couple of weeks we were all together. Neither Dad nor I suspected, but I think my mom knew that Bobby's compass needle had finally stopped swinging and had started pointing.

'Why are they so mean?' I asked. 'I'm supposed to answer that?'

'Someone

better,' he said. 'Pretty soon, too, the way things are going.' 'They're going the way they always went,' I said, 'and I guess they're doing it because people were built to be mean. If you want to lay blame, blame God.'

'That's bullshit. I don't believe it. Even that double-X-chromosome stuff turned out to be bullshit in the end. And don't tell me it's just economic pressures, the conflict between the haves and have-nots, because that doesn't explain all of it, either.'

‘Original sin,' I said. 'It works for me - it's got a good beat and you can dance to it.'

'Well,' Bobby said, 'maybe it is original sin. But what's the instrument, big brother? Have you ever asked yourself that?'

'Instrument? What instrument? I'm not following you.'

'I think it's the water,' Bobby said moodily.

'Say what?'

'The water. Something in the water.

He looked at me.

'Or something that isn't.'

The next day Bobby went off to Waco. I didn't see him again until he showed up at my apartment wearing the inside-out Mumford shirt and carrying the two glass boxes. That was three years later.

'Howdy, Howie,' he said, stepping in and giving me a nonchalant swat on the back as if it had been only three days.

'Bobby!' I yelled, and threw both arms around him in a bear-hug. Hard angles bit into my chest, and I heard an angry hive-hum.

'I'm glad to see you too,' Bobby said, 'but you better go easy. You're upsetting the natives.'

I stepped back in a hurry. Bobby set down the big paper bag he was carrying and unslung his shoulder-bag. Then he carefully brought the glass boxes out of the bag. There was a beehive in one, a wasps' nest in the other. The bees were already settling down and going back to whatever business bees have, but the wasps were clearly unhappy about the whole thing.

'Okay, Bobby,' I said. I looked at him and grinned. I couldn't seem to stop grinning. 'What are you up to this time)'

He unzipped the tote-bag and brought out a mayonnaise jar which was half-filled with a clear liquid.

'See this?' he said.

'Yeah. Looks like either water or white lightning.,

'It's actually both, if you can believe that. It came from an artesian well in La Plata, a little town forty miles east of Waco, and before I turned it into this concentrated form, there were five gallons of it. I've got a regular little distillery running down there, Howie, but I don't think the government will ever bust me for it.' He was grinning, and now the grin broadened. 'Water's all it is, but it's still the goddamndist popskull the human race has ever seen.'

'I don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about.'

'I know you don't. But you will. You know what, Howie?'

'What?'

'If the idiotic human race can manage to hold itself together for another six months, I'm betting it'll hold itself together for all time.'

He lifted the mayonnaise jar, and one magnified Bobby-eye stared at me through it with huge solemnity. 'This is the big one,' he said. 'The cure for the worst disease to which Homo sapiens falls prey.'

'Cancer?'

'Nope,' Bobby said. 'War. Barroom brawls. Drive-by shootings. The whole mess. Where's your bathroom, Howie? My back teeth are floating.'

When he came back he had not only turned the Mumford tee-shirt rightside out, he had combed his hair - nor had his method of doing this changed, I saw. Bobby just held his head under the faucet for awhile then raked everything back with his fingers.

He looked at the two glass boxes and pronounced the bees and wasps back to normal. 'Not that a wasps' nest ever approaches anything even closely resembling "normal", Howie. Wasps are social insects, like bees and ants, but unlike bees, which are almost always sane, and ants, which have occasional schizoid lapses, wasps are total full-bore lunatics.' He smiled. 'Just like us good old Homo saps.' He took the top off the glass box containing the beehive.

'Tell you what, Bobby,' I said. I was smiling, but the smile felt much too wide. 'Put the top back on and just tell me about it, what do you say? Save the demonstration for later. I mean, my landlord's a real pussycat, but the super's this big bull dyke who smokes Odie Perode cigars and has thirty pounds on me. She-'

'You'll like this,' Bobby said, as if I hadn't spoken at all - a habit as familiar to me as his Ten Fingers Method of Hair Grooming. He was never impolite but often totally absorbed. And could I stop him? Aw shit, no. It was too good to have him back. I mean I think I knew even then that something was going to go totally wrong, but when I was with Bobby for more than five minutes, he just hypnotized me. He was Lucy holding the football and promising me this time for sure, and I was Charlie Brown, rushing down the field to kick it. 'In fact, you've probably seen it done before - they show pictures of it in magazines from time to time, or in TV wildlife documentaries. It's nothing very special, but it looks like a big deal because people have got these totally irrational prejudices about bees.'

And the weird thing was, he was right - I had seen it before.

He stuck his hand into the box between the hive and the glass. In less than fifteen seconds his hand had acquired a living black-and-yellow glove. It brought back an instant of total recall: sitting in front of the TV, wearing footie pajamas and clutching my Paddington Bear, maybe half an hour before bedtime (and surely years before Bobby was born), watching with mingled horror, disgust, and fascination as some beekeeper allowed bees to cover his entire face. They had formed a sort of executioner's hood at first, and then he had brushed them into a grotesque living beard.

Bobby winced suddenly, sharply, then grinned.

'One of em stung me,' he said. 'They're still a little upset from the trip. I hooked a ride with the local insurance lady from La Plata to Waco - she's got an old Piper Cub - and flew some little commuter airline, Air Asshole, I think it was, up to New Orleans from there. Made about forty connections, but I swear to God it was the cab ride from LaGarbage that got em crazy. Second Avenue's still got more potholes than the Bergenstrasse after the Germans surrendered.'

'You know, I think you really ought to get your hand out of there, Bobs,' I said. I kept waiting for some of them to fly out - I could imagine chasing them around with a rolled-up magazine for hours, bringing them down one by one, as if they were escapees in some old prison movie. But none of them had escaped ... at least so far.

'Relax, Howie. You ever see a bee sting a flower? Or even hear of it, for that matter?'

'You don't look like a flower.'

He laughed. 'Shit, you think bees know what a flower looks like? Uh-uh! No way, man! They don't know what a flower looks like any more than you or I know what a cloud sounds like. They know I'm sweet because I excrete sucrose dioxin in my sweat ... along with thirty-seven other dioxins, and those're just the ones we know about.'

He paused thoughtfully.

'Although I must confess I was careful to, uh, sweeten myself up a little tonight. Ate a box of chocolate-covered cherries on the plane-'

'Oh Bobby, Jesus!'

'-and had a couple of MallowCremes in the taxi coming here.'

He reached in with his other hand and carefully began to brush the bees away. I saw him wince once more just before he got the last of them off, and then he eased my mind considerably by replacing the lid on the glass box. I saw a red swelling on each of his hands: one in the cup of the left palm, another high up on the right, near what the palmists call the Bracelets of Fortune. He'd been stung, but I saw well enough what he'd set out to show me: what looked like at least four hundred bees had investigated him. Only two had stung.

He took a pair of tweezers out of his jeans watch-pocket, and went over to my desk. He moved the pile of manuscript beside the Wang Micro I was using in those days and trained my Tensor lamp on the place where the pages had been -fiddling with it until it formed a tiny hard spotlight on the cherrywood.

'Writin anything good, Bow-Wow?' he asked casually, and I felt the hair stiffen on the back of my neck. When was the last time he'd called me Bow-Wow? When he was four? Six? Shit, man, I don't know. He was working carefully on his left hand with the tweezers. I saw him extract a tiny something that looked like a nostril hair and place it in my ashtray.

'Piece on art forgery for Vanity Fair,' I said. 'Bobby, what in hell are you up to this time?'

'You want to pull the other one for me?' he asked, offering me the tweezers, his right hand, and an apologetic smile. 'I keep thinking if I'm so goddam smart I ought to be ambidextrous, but my left hand has still got an IQ of about six.'

Same old Bobby.

I sat down beside him, took the tweezers, and pulled the bee stinger out of the red swelling near what in his case should have been the Bracelets of Doom, and while I did it he told me about the differences between bees and wasps, the difference between the water in La Plata and the water in New York, and how, goddam! everything was going to be an right with his water and a little help from me.

And oh shit, I ended up running at the football while my laughing, wildly intelligent brother held it, one last time.

 

 

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